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Leafs better, but not quite there, as VLM hits the two-year mark

With the regular-season less than a week away now, the Leafs are facing the usual last-minute decisions about the opening-night roster.

Whatever choices they make (Aulie or Gardiner or both, who makes up the “bottom-six”, etc.) I’m not too concerned, for a couple of reasons.  The first is that while opening-night brings a lot of understandable hoopla and pent-up excitement, within two weeks factors like  injuries, the play of certain players, etc. can lead to two or three new faces inserted.

We’re crying for Jake Gardiner now, but we may have other concerns before long.

Beyond that, to me, the Leafs have bigger things on their mind.  Burke and company have to figure out how to get from here to there, if you know what I mean.

That is, as I mentioned in those earlier columns, they have finished the easy part—re-building a very poor team into something faster, a bit tougher and certainly more competitive.  But the real challenge is not just making the playoffs (heck, every NHL team claims that as their objective each season) but becoming a team that is a bona fide contender year after year.

I know some fans believe the Leafs are heading in that direction, and for the most part, I do, too.  But there is a whole lot more to do.  And we’re still in the very early post-embryonic stages—when things get “serious”, when you really find out if a team can play.

For me, there are players and then there are players.  I’ve been at this Maple Leaf “fan” thing an awfully long time and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, even the frustrating, deeply disappointing moments (and decades, sometimes…)

So what do I mean that there are players and then there are players?  Well, a) there are individuals who play well in training camp.  They’re young and fighting for a spot, old and trying to earn one last shot or unknown and surprise everyone.  Then b) you have guys who play well in pre-season.  They score lots of goals and stand out playing against guys who are just trying to get ready for another NHL season.  Then c) there is the regular-season.  Some guys start out great, and we read all the stories about what they did in the off-season to prepare.  They look like All-Stars early on.  Then there is d) when things really began to matter (assuming you have a decent team and making the playoffs is your minimum expectation) in the last month of the season.  This is when you really start to see who can play, when it really counts.

Then there is the e) playoff performer, the guy who can (or can’t) play when the light shines brightest.

That light shines even brighter when f) you go deep into the playoffs

Here’s my reality:  I have no idea who on this Leaf roster will not only cope with the above (d, e and f)  but excel under those conditions, when the game is so much more physical, when every little play and every inch of ice matters, when the tight checking makes goal-scorers hit a wall, when special teams (ouch) are so vital to success in a short series.

We can guess who we think will play well when it really counts, but we don't know just yet.  Sometimes young players shine in those tough situations. Sometimes it takes a lot of experience -and failure- to start having success. 

All that said, I’m (as I always am) enthusiastic heading into the season.  But I’m, shall we say, cautiously optimistic.  I say that because, for all the positive changes, and the excitement around young players like Gardiner and others, we still need to see this team, individually and as a collective whole, compete acceptably at c) and d) before we even talk about the next “stages” of performance expectation.

In the meantime, I’m all for enjoying what we have…


An aside:  I want to thank everyone who is a regular visitor (and in some cases, contributor) to Vintage Leaf Memories.  Today marks the start of the third “season”/year of my sharing memories from when I was a young Leaf fan and also providing commentary on the current squad.

I appreciate all the respectful, thoughtful comments I receive, and the suggestions, too.  I hope the site fills a comfortable, engaging spot in your daily or weekly reading calendar.

Warm wishes.


  1. "We’re crying for Jake Gardiner now, but we may have other concerns before long."

    An hour or so later-
    "Nazem Kadri is out reportedly for three-to-four weeks due to a sprained knee."

    Way to go, Michael, you broke Kadri.
    Congrats to Mr. Langlois on his 2nd blog-day and for the massive amount of good to great writing and dedication he's shown.

  2. Hey Michael,

    Great reads and good analysis, Thanks.

    And Im still hoping for one more Kabs

  3. Keep up the goodwork buddu

  4. KidK, thanks for the kind words. I appreciate it.

    Bester30...Thanks for that. And I smiled at the Kabby reference. I can't seem to help myself. I'm guessing I'll find a reason to pen one more post on him before too long!

  5. Well, first off - congratulations on making it to year 3! You're showing the tenacity and commitment that it takes to be a Leafs fan!
    Secondly, there are so many intangibles that there's no way we can predict our ultimate destination. It reminds me of going on a ride called "Laff In The Dark" they used to have at the Ex. When I first went on it, age 6 or so, I thought it would be fun - and I was terrified. I avoided it for a year or two. Then I gathered up my courage went on again, and loved its combination of frights and delights. So it is with being a Leafs fan. All we can really do is buckle up and prepare for an entertaining, unexpected ride!

  6. Micheal, thank you for the treasure trove of Toronto Maple Leaf hockey history and commentary you provide, and congrats on celebrating 2 years!

  7. Gerund O', thanks for your note of congratulations and thank you for your tremendous contributions to the site.

    Hogie, many thanks for your complimentary words. I very much appreciate your support.

  8. I am very impressed with the great work you do. Congratulations on making it to year three. Let's hope there are many more to come. We who were together, and blissfully so, during the good years, have a duty to keep the faith. After all, we are the ones who know that victory is possible. It is a team effort all the way, and that includes each and every fan. Everyone has a part to play. Your role is significant, my friend. One day, we will celebrate together. Let's plan on it.


  9. Thanks for the kind words and sharing those sentiments, Elizabeth. As a member of the Smythe family, you have a truly unique awareness of the history that makes the Maple Leafs so important to so many people to this day.

    A new season brings renewed hope for Leaf fans everywhere.

    Warm wishes to you and your entire family.